After a fantastic 189-yard”revengeful” performance against Bears, Cincy B Cedric Benson is Week 7’s Game Ball winner
I will start with a “Cheerio” this week as the NFL returned to London for the third year in a row. Unfortunately for the NFL’s English fans viewing our version of football, they were not treated to an entertaining game.
The New England Patriots (5-2), led by QB Tom Brady and WR Wes Welker, continued their dominating ways by disposing of the winless Tampa Bay Buccaneers 35-7 at sold-out Wembley Stadium.
The Patriots have now won 17 consecutive games against NFC opponents, the longest streak of any team against the other conference since the 1970 merger.
With the 2009 “Own the Moment” season quickly nearing its halfway point, weekly fans are getting more clarity about who are the true “Contenders” and who are the “Pretenders.”
But Week Seven should have been called “Blowout Week” around the NFL as six teams lost by 20 points or more and 11 teams won by 10 points or more.
However despite the ever-increasing number of blowouts in an NFL world where anyone can see the Grand Canyon sized divide between the “Have’s” and “Have Nots” (after seven weeks of play there are three undefeated teams—Colts, Broncos, and Saints—and three winless teams—Rams, Titans, and Bucs) there were a few matchups that lived up to their hype.
With only two divisional grudges on this week’s slate, the highlight of Week Seven had to be the eight inter-conference games pitting the AFC and NFC, where conference bragging rights were at stake.
After the dust settled it was the AFC, once again, that dominated the NFC with six wins and two losses.
The AFC’s dominance this week held true to a distinct pattern that we have seen this decade. Despite the New York Giants winning in 2007, clearly the AFC has picked up their collective game as they have won all but two Super Bowl titles (other NFC title was the Buccaneers in 2002).
The AFC has the Indianapolis Colts led by Robo-Quarterback Peyton Manning. They seem to win 12 games every year (they beat up on the winless Rams this week).
The AFC also has the Patriots, who have won three Super Bowl titles this decade and the defending Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers (who ended the Vikings winning streak this week).
Even though two of the three big AFC franchises stumbled early (Steelers and Patriots), you knew they would get back in the race at the top of the NFL, and they have so far.
The AFC’s Big Three is almost always in the mix come playoff time, and do not expect anything different this season.
Each team has a quality quarterback making timely throws, solid running games providing balance, and attacking defenses who turn turnovers into points.
The Steelers won their fourth straight game, this time disposing of one of the NFC’s two unbeatens, 27-17. The Steelers, fueled by their resurging defense—wonder if the return of Troy “The Hair” Polamalu has anything to do with it—bent but didn’t break in their victory that put the first “L” on the Vikings, who outgained Pittsburgh 386-259, but only scored 10 points offensively.
Defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau’s defenders were able to stop Vikings QB Brett Favre (34-of-51, 334 yards, 0 TDs, and 1 INT), All-World RB Adrian Peterson, emerging receiver Sidney Rice, and the rest of the Vikes offense deep in Pittsburgh territory when it mattered most—three big defensive stands.
The Steelers were able to turn back Peterson three times (from the half-yard line) on a crucial early game goalline stand that left the score 13-10 in favor of the home team.
But the two biggest game-changing plays happened when the 2008 Super Bowl champs needed it most, especially with their offense sputtering at times. Other than a short Peterson touchdown run, there were no passing touchdowns. And easily the Vikings' biggest play was a Percy Harvin 88-yd kickoff return.
Steelers LB LaMarr Woodley’s 77-yard fumble return for a touchdown after Favre was stripped in the third quarter and LB Keyaron Fox’s 82-yard interception return for a touchdown on a Favre dump-off pass late in the fourth quarter were the keys in ending any of the venerable quarterback’s comeback magic this week.
Favre said after his team’s first loss of 2009, “There were a lot of what ifs, a lot of reasons we didn’t win, the red zone was one of them. (The Steelers) are physical, and they were as good as we thought they’d be”.
The Steelers held Peterson to only 69 rushing yards—their 25th straight game without allowing a 100-yard rusher—produced three turnovers, and kept Favre out of the end zone for the first time this year in the win.
Even in a weekend of AFC dominance, one NFC team continues to “March On” and that is the NFC South leading New Orleans Saints.
The Saints continued the best start in their franchise’s history by beating the Dolphins in a thrilling comeback, as they increased their record to 6-0.
Brees and the unbeaten Saints fell behind for the first time all season, then overcame a 21-point deficit Sunday to beat the Dolphins 46-34 (biggest comeback in franchise history).
The NFL’s highest-scoring team topped 40 points for the fourth time (most since 1950) and outscored the Dolphins 22-0 in the fourth quarter to seal a crucial road victory.
Brees, who has looked like a miniature version of Johnny Unitas at times this year, had his worst game of the season—3 INTs, a lost fumble and five sacks—but it didn’t matter as the Saints won again.
Brees this week used his legs, rushing for two TDs, including a crucial quarterback sneak at the end of the first half that cut the score to 24-10 in favor of the Dolphins.
To their credit, the Saints’ staff made the right adjustments at halftime that eventually won them the game.
“It can be a season-defining win,” linebacker Scott Shanle said. “This was a test we hadn’t faced yet, and we couldn’t be happier with the way we responded.”
Brees was not the only hero of the game as the Saints defense produced the stops that allowed their offense to comeback. After a first half where the “Wildcat” was running wild (for the game, America’s most talked about formation netted 30 yards on 14 plays), the Saints dug in and limited the Dolphins to only 10 second-half points.
The Saints biggest play happened early in the third quarter when Pro Bowl safety Darren Sharper (NFL leading six INTs) scored on an interception return for the third time this season. The 42-yard INT to the house came after Sharper took a deflected from Dolphins WR Ted Ginn Jr.
The Saints defense preserved the win for New Orleans' finest too as CB Tracy Porter picked off a Chad Henne pass and returned it 54 yards for a touchdown with just under two minutes remaining.
Miami RB Ricky Williams, who had three TDs, said of the loss to the NFC’s best team, “This was our game to win, we fought and we fought. They just fought harder at the end.”
Everyone knows that it is too early to make season long assertions right now. But New Orleans has shown week in and week out that they are a tough team with a lot of weapons offensively and defensively.
I can tell you, they have made a believer out of this one-time naysayer. I cannot wait for the Saints to host the Patriots in Week 12.
Here are some of Lloyd’s Leftovers for this week before we go to the awards.
New Colts’ Head Coach is the Real Deal
Rookie head coach Jim Caldwell has led the Colts to a 5-0 start this season. With a Colts win on Sunday against the St. Louis Rams, the Colts improved to 6-0 and Caldwell tied the mark for the best start by a rookie head coach since 1970.
Denver Broncos head coach Josh McDaniels already tied the mark on Monday night in the Broncos’ 34-23 victory over the San Diego Chargers. With wins in Week Eight, Caldwell and McDaniels can break a tie with former head coaches Chuck Knox, Red Miller, and Mike Martz.
Titans Owner Wants to See Vince Young Now
Though the hapless Titans were on a bye this week, their owner Bud Adams made it clear he wants Vince Young to replace Kerry Collins now.
Adams, 86, has always been in Young’s corner and may be giving head coach Jeff Fisher a mandate. Fisher would not commit to Collins (completing 54.8 percent of passes with five TDs and eight INTs) at his press conference Monday, the first time he’s wavered on the decision all year.
Nothing is official yet, but it sounds like Young, who counts $14.2M against next year’s salary cap, will get his chance against the Jaguars on Sunday.
The third overall pick of the 2006 draft, Young went 18-11 in 29 starts over his first three seasons, but he’s been the backup since suffering a knee injury in the second half of the Sept. 9, 2008 game (2008 season opener) against the Jaguars.
“I have been wanting (Fisher) to play Vince Young more because Collins has been having his problems out there,” Adams said. “I just think we need to find out how well (Young) can do.
Tough Injury Loss for the Jets
Mercurial Jets RB Leon Washington broke his leg (fibula) in a blowout win over the Oakland Raiders.
The Jets will probably place Washington on IR and they will need three players (rookie Shonn Greene, Brad Smith, and Danny Woodhead) to replace the variety of skills that he offers to the team.
Other key injuries around the NFL were Eagles RB Brian Westbrook (concussion), Steelers DE Travis Kirschke (calf), Redskins TE Chris Cooley (broken foot—season), Steelers LB Lawrence Timmons (high ankle), Colts RB Donald Brown (shoulder), Vikings WR Bernard Berrian (left leg), Saints DT Sedrick Ellis (sprained right knee), Dolphins CB Will Allen (ACL—season), Niners ILB Takeo Spikes (sprained right shoulder), Colts WR Reggie Wayne (strained groin), Redskins QB Jason Campbell (sprained ankle), Giants TE Kevin Boss (stiff neck), Texans WR Andre Johnson (chest contusion) and Rams CB Bradley Fletcher (torn ligaments in right knee—season).
Nice Road Ahead for the Arizona Cardinals
After their tough 24-17 win over the NY Giants on Sunday Night Football, the road back to the playoffs is a favorable one for Ken Whisenhunt’s team. Only two of the Cardinals’ 10 remaining games are against teams with winning records.
Their next five opponents—Carolina Panthers (2-4), Chicago Panthers (3-3) , Seattle Seahawks (2-4), St. Louis Rams (0-7) and Tennessee Titans (0-7)—are a combined 7-24.
Hey Raiders, Do You Want a Re-Do on That Pick
In his first action since ending his 71-day holdout, Niners first-round pick Michael Crabtree played a ton in his team’s close loss to the Houston Texans.
Crabtree was in for 48 of 54 of the Niners’ plays and had five catches for 56 yards in his NFL debut.
Conversely Raiders WR Darius Heyward-Bey (seventh overall pick), who was taken three spots ahead of Crabtree by noted need-for-speed aficionado Al Davis, only has seven catches for 64 yards and 0 TDs, plus at least four drops through seven games.
Cincinnati Bengals RB Cedric Benson
“Revenge” is a dish best served cold, and that is exactly what Benson gave the Chicago Bears.
After accusing Bears management (GM Jerry Angelo and head coach Lovie Smith) of bad-mouthing him out the door, Benson took matters into his own hands and was spectacular in the Bengals surprisingly easy 45-10 win over the reeling Bears.
The former Bears first round pick who was quickly jettisoned after a couple off-the-field incidents, regained his lead in the NFL rushing title race with a career-high 189 yards and one TD on 37 carries.
The former University of Texas star seems to be on a Pro Bowl pace right now as he has 164 carries for 720 yards (4.4 ypc) and five TDs this season.
Dallas Cowboys QB Tony Romo
The Cowboys (4-2) continued their climb back into the NFC East divisional race with a dominating 37-21 home win over the Falcons, their second straight win.
The main cog of the Cowboys’ offense was spectacular completing 21-of-29 passes for 311 yards and threre TDs. Plus he added 31 yards on the ground.
Romo also seems to have his T.O. replacement in emerging receiver Miles Austin.
Dallas Cowboys OLB DeMarcus Ware
The Cowboys defensive menace recorded two sacks Sunday in the ‘Boys win over the Falcons and now has four sacks for the season.
Ware finally seems comfortable rushing the passer again, and the Cowboys rewarded his hard work by giving him a new six-year deal including $40M in guaranteed money.
The 6'4", 262-pound, three-time Pro Bowl linebacker now has 57.5 quarterback sacks for his career.
Cincinnati Bengals QB Carson Palmer
While everyone was talking about the effort of RB Cedric Benson, Palmer “quietly” showed that he is getting back to his old form in a big win over the Bears. Palmer was pinpoint as he completed 20-of-24 passes for 233 yards and five TDs.
New England Patriots FS Brandon Meriweather
The former product of the “U” had two interceptions across the pond, including returning one for a touchdown in the Patriots’ 35-7 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Pittsburgh Steelers LT Max Starks
The Steelers strong tackle is finally meriting his big salary. Starks held Vikings Pro Bowl DE Jared Allen to just one tackle and no sacks in the Steelers win over the Vikings. Starks and his O-line mate also helped the Steelers produce a 5.3 YPC average in the running game.
SF 49ers QB Alex Smith
It was "remember me" time as the former first overall pick from 2005 shined after replacing starter Shaun Hill at halftime.
Smith responded by completing 15-of-22 passes for 206 yards and three touchdowns (all to emerging TE Vernon Davis) and rallied the Niners from 21 points down.
Unfortunately the Niners came up short, losing to the Houston Texans by a score 24-21.
• Steelers linebackers LaMarr Woodley and Keyaron Fox (scored fourth quarter touchdowns to drive the Steelers over the Vikings)
• Buffalo Bills Safety Jairus Byrd (two interceptions spurred the Bills to a surprising road win over the Panthers)
• New Orleans Saints PK John Carney (became the fourth NFL player to score 2,000 points in his career)
• Dallas Cowboys WR Miles Austin (showed that his 250-yard breakout at Kansas City in Week Five was no fluke by producing 171 yards and two TDs in the Cowboys win over the Falcons)
• Philadelphia Eagles QB Donovan McNabb (reached career milestones 30,000 yards passing and 200 career touchdown passes in the Eagles win over the Redskins)
• Philadelphia Eagles WR DeSean Jackson (caught only two passes but had 69 yards and a touchdown in the Eagles’ 27-17 win over the Redskins. Jackson also ran for a 67-yard touchdown and scored both Eagles’ offensive touchdowns)
• The NY Jets RB’s (led by rookie Shonn Greene’s 144 yards and two TDs, the Jets RB’s became the first NFL team since the 1975 Buffalo Bills to rush for 300 yards in back-to-back games).
Kansas City Chiefs RB Larry Johnson
Things just went from bad to worse for LJ in Kansas City.
The two-time NFL rushing leader and former workhorse has definitely slowed down since his heyday of about five years ago. Time, off the field problems, and injuries have definitely caught up with him (he'll be 30 on Nov. 19th).
But the bigger story is that after another pedestrian effort (16 rushes for 49 yards with a long of nine yards) on Sunday in a 37-7 loss to the Chargers, Johnson got on the offensive via Twitter against Chiefs head coach Todd Haley.
Here are some of his excerpts: “my father got more credentials than most these pro coaches….google my father!!!”; “My father played for the coach from “remember the titans.” "Our coach played golf. My father played for redskins briefly. Our coach. Nuthn”.
It is never a good idea to jump on your head coach, but then LJ decided to call some reporters a bad word for homosexuals and Tweeted much more.
Now NFL spokesman Greg Aiello revealed that the league is investigating LJ’s recent tirade on Twitter. Plus the team basically told the volatile runner that he cannot practice, and he is not at their complex.
I don’t think it will be long before LJ is on the free agent running back scrap heap with older RB’s Warrick Dunn and Shaun Alexander.
Dallas Cowboys WR Roy Williams
The former Detroit Lions first rounder returned to the lineup in Week Seven (rib injury) and produced one catch along with several drops.
Williams just doesn’t seem like he will ever live up to the amount the Cowboys traded for him and now Miles Austin is clearly the team’s No. 1 receiver. Williams has just 12 catches on 30 targets (40 percent catch rate) this season and looks like he is a colossal bust.
Oakland Raiders DE Richard Seymour
Predicted his team would make the playoffs after their “lucky’ win over the Philadelphia Eagles last week. And the Raiders responded by getting shutout 35-0 by the NY Jets.
NY Jets QB Mark Sanchez
I know it was a snooze fest in a dominating 38-0 win over the Raiders, but did you really have to eat a hot dog with mustard on the sidelines.
Minnesota Vikings FB/TE Jeff Dugan
Unnecessarily ran down NFL back judge Richard Reels on Percy Harvin’s kickoff return for a touchdown in the fourth quarter of the Steelers’ win. Also Dugan had a bad tripping penalty near the goal line that negated a Brett Favre touchdown pass.
NY Giants rookie OT William Beatty
Playing in place of starter Kareem McKenzie (ended Giants O-line’s 38 consecutive starts streak), head coach Tom Coughlin gave Beatty mixed reviews.
The youngster from UConn was beat off the edge by Cardinals OLB Clark Haggans for a sack and also had a bad false start penalty late in the fourth quarter.
Panthers QB Jake Delhomme
Was terrible in Carolina’s 20-9 home loss to the Buffalo Bills as he threw three more interceptions. The former Super Bowl starter is now on pace to throw a mind-boggling 35 interceptions and has 13 INTs for the season.
The NFL’s 32nd-rated passer may soon be watching one of his former backups (A.J. Feeley or Matt Moore) playing.
Raiders QB JaMarcus Russell
Returned to his pitiful ways in a horrible loss to the NY Jets. Russell had two INTs, one lost fumble, and was benched for journeyman QB Bruce Gradkowski.
Chicago Bears DT Tommie Harris
Inactive for lack of effort in practices and for overall being in head coach Lovie Smith’s doghouse. The former Bears defensive leader was told he was not needed this week and he may soon be looking for another team despite his huge contract.
NFL Week Seven
SUN, OCT 25
Bengals (5-2) over Bears (3-3), 45-10
Bills (3-4) over Panthers (2-4), 20-9
Cardinals (4-2) over Giants (5-2), 24-17
Chargers (3-3) over Chiefs (1-6), 37-7
Colts (6-0) over Rams (0-7), 42-6
Cowboys (4-2) over Falcons (4-2), 37-21
Jets (4-3) over Raiders (2-5), 38-0
Packers (4-2) over Browns (1-6), 31-3
Patriots (5-2) over Buccaneers (0-7), 35-7
Saints (6-0) over Dolphins (2-4), 46-34
Steelers (5-2) over Vikings (6-1), 27-17
Texans (4-3) over 49ers (3-3), 24-21
SUN, OCT 26
Eagles (4-2) over Redskins (2-5), 27-17
Byes: Broncos (6-0), Jaguars (3-3), Lions (1-5), Ravens (3-3), Seahawks (2-4), Titans (0-6)
Lloyd Vance is a Sr. NFL Writer for Taking It to the House and an award-winning member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA)